June 21 Shantideva Discussion Questions


Chapter 4, Verse 13: Innumerable Buddhas have gone by, seeking out every sentient being; but through my own fault, I have not come into the domain of their cure.

Explain this verse using the analogy of a seed growing under the correct conditions.

Chapter 4, Verse 15: When shall I encounter the extremely rare appearance of the Tathagata, faith, human existence, and the ability to practice virtue,

Chapter 4, Verse 16: Health, daily sustenance, and lack of adversity? Life is momentary and deceptive; and the body is as if on loan.

Take a closer look at the Eight Leisures and Ten Endowments that characterize our precious human rebirth (see Geshe Chonyi’s text and look online, for example, Lama Zopa’s teachings on the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archives http://lywa.org). It’s easy to gloss over these without fully appreciating their meaning. Pick one or two of the Ten Endowments and explain in your own words, what they mean to you.

Meditation on Death and Impermanence

I heard a heart breaking story on NPR about mothers grieving the loss of their sons who were American soldiers killed in Iraq or Afganistan. Even though their sons died several years ago, they still visit their graves a few times a week.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91824839. Please listen to the story and then meditate on their overwhelming sorrow. Imagine writing a letter to one of them giving words of comfort from a Buddhist perspective on death and impermanence. Relate this to Shantideva’s teachings. How might this help them let go of their pain?

— Posted by Dina Li

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12 thoughts on “June 21 Shantideva Discussion Questions

  1. We have lots of challenging questions this week, so I’m answering them in parts. Here is the answer to the first question. The answers to the next questions will be following shortly.

    Chapter 4, Verse 13: Innumerable Buddhas have gone by, seeking out every sentient being; but through my own fault, I have not come into the domain of their cure.

    Q: Explain this verse using the analogy of a seed growing under the correct conditions.

    Lisa W’s $.02: Anyone who has ever planted a garden understands that successful gardens just don’t happen. They require a lot of work. For example, you have to plant the appropriate seeds for the type of fruits or vegetables you want to grow. You also have to make sure that the seed is planted in the right soil (a lesson I learned the hard way trying to grow pumpkins in Virginia’s heavy clay soil), and that the plant also gets the right amount of sun. Not too much. Not too little. Not only that, but you have to make sure you plant the seed at the right time so that it doesn’t succumb to frost. Lots of people go so far as to start the seeds indoors in little peat pots to get a jump on the growing season. That doesn’t always guarantee that a frost won’t happen after the recommended time for planting. So, you still have to watch the weather and cover your plants with plastic if a frost might occur. Then in addition to all of this, there is the ongoing cultivation of the plants. You have to water them just the right amount, continuously remove weeds that grow up around the plants, and make sure that the plants have the right nutrients to grow to be their best.

    As I’m typing this it sounds kind of exhausting, and to be honest with you, I really prefer just going to a farmer’s market. That gives me more time for Dharma practice! 😉 That said, all of this is analogous to the level of patience and effort required to cultivate one’s mind. In my view, the preparation of the soil, the right light, watering, adding of nutrients, etc. is analogous to practicing the ten virtues and cultivating the six perfections. Weeding is analogous to refraining from the ten non-virtues and overcoming afflictive emotions by applying the appropriate antidotes to them. For example, if I want to overcome attachment, I should meditate on the inevitability of death. If I am patiently, diligently, conscientiously doing these things, I will create the merit and the karmic disposition to perceive a Buddha and benefit from their teachings. The trick is that I have to create the positive conditions, the fertile soil and ongoing care if you will, to be able to benefit from the teachings of a Buddha. Only I can do this. The Buddha can’t do it all for me. This is explained very nicely in Geshe Chonyi’s commentary:

    “In the eighth chapter of his Ornament for Clear Realizations (Abhisamayalamkara), Maitreya Buddha said that just as dead seeds will not grow even if all the conditions, such as rainfall, fertilizer, soil, warmth and so forth are present, similarly, because of our own faults and mistakes, we have not come under the care of the buddhas. The buddhas have complete power, but, in order for that power to be effective, we must be ready from our own sides. Because of our own faults, this power does not have any effect. In this case, therefore, it is not the fault of the buddhas. (Geshe Chonyi’s commentary, page 166)”

  2. Here’s the answer to Q2. I’m still working on the answer to Q3.

    Chapter 4, Verse 15: When shall I encounter the extremely rare appearance of the Tathagata, faith, human existence, and the ability to practice virtue,

    Chapter 4, Verse 16: Health, daily sustenance, and lack of adversity? Life is momentary and deceptive; and the body is as if on loan.

    Q: Take a closer look at the Eight Leisures and Ten Endowments that characterize our precious human rebirth (see Geshe Chonyi’s text and look online, for example, Lama Zopa’s teachings on the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archives http://lywa.org). It’s easy to gloss over these without fully appreciating their meaning. Pick one or two of the Ten Endowments and explain in your own words, what they mean to you.

    Lisa’s $.02: Endowment # 5 has always been very interesting to me in how it can be interpreted. Usually, I’ve seen it interpreted a “having faith in the Dharma”, but sometimes I’ve seen it interpreted as “having the freedom to choose to have faith in the Dharma”. This is thought provoking because they are two separate issues in my opinion, and both are very important to our practice.

    I am very blessed to live in the United States where I have the ability to practice any religion I want. I choose to practice Buddhism because that is what I have faith in, or perhaps more precisely, philosophically agree with, but faith is a crucial component. There are things I don’t fully understand, such as the laws of karma. (Shoot, I’d have to be omniscient to fully understand it, and that is quite a ways off.) Even though I don’t fully understand it, I have faith in the workings of karma based on a variety of reasons, including checking what I have learned with my own anecdotal experiences and the experiences of others. As these have proven to be correct in my experience, I have faith that other laws of karma that I don’t really understand will also prove to be correct. I’ve tried to explain this to people who have no faith in karma, or even worse, are not sure that they don’t live in a consequence free environment. Even if I didn’t believe in reincarnation (which I do), I can clearly see that our actions in this life have consequences. I’ve observed that the people who don’t get that tend to, more often than not, end up very unhappy people. Whenever I see this, it always provides another incentive to practice conscientiously with a goal of purifying the negative karma and accumulating positive karma. It’s not just an incentive, but also an opportunity for me to really, deeply appreciate that I have this understanding and this faith, and that ultimately I am going to be much better off because of that.

    I could have all of the faith and understanding in the world and live in a place where I was forced to adhere to another religion that didn’t work for me, or where I was not allowed to practice any religion at all. Under those circumstances, prompted by an understanding of karma, I would strive to be the best person I could be, but it wouldn’t be the same because I would not be able to freely practice, and therefore would not get all of the support and guidance from wonderful Dharma centers like the Guhyasamaja Center. All of this is assuming that I even know what the Dharma is, which is getting into Endowments 5 – 10, but particularly #7. There are so many places where people don’t have this freedom of choice that we should never take for granted the opportunity to have that freedom, and use it to find the path that is right for us, so that we can make the best progress for ourselves.

    If anyone is interested, I found the following resource at http://www.abuddhistlibrary.com to be very helpful:

    http://www.abuddhistlibrary.com/Buddhism/A%20-%20Tibetan%20Buddhism/Subjects/The%20Stages%20of%20the%20Path/Lam%20Rim%20Outlines/lam_rim_outline.pdf

  3. Q3: I heard a heart breaking story on NPR about mothers grieving the loss of their sons who were American soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Even though their sons died several years ago, they still visit their graves a few times a week.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91824839.

    Please listen to the story and then meditate on their overwhelming sorrow. Imagine writing a letter to one of them giving words of comfort from a Buddhist perspective on death and impermanence. Relate this to Shantideva’s teachings. How might this help them let go of their pain?

    Lisa’s $.02: This is a really tough question, since I can’t imagine the pain of losing a child. I have lost people who were very important to me though, and not always though death but also through the inevitable changes life brings, so I will speak from that perspective for what it’s worth.

    There was one woman in the NPR story that talked about watching her son’s friends go through major life experiences like marriage, and feeling like her son should be there. I relate to this because I’ve also felt that way about people I have lost. My studies of dependent origination have helped me to check this expectation, and to understand that there really are no guarantees. If everything dependently exists, if there is nothing about anything that is fixed and permanent, what is there to base a guarantee or an expectation on? The reality is that our very precious human rebirths are so very fragile (“like a water bubble”), and anything can cause our deaths at any moment. Perhaps I’ll live to be 100, or perhaps I’ll drop dead of an aneurism next week. I hope not, and all of this is a real downer to think about, but it does motivate me to make every moment of my life meaningful, including the time that I spend with all of the people that I care about. In addition to maintaining our health as best we can, I think making every moment meaningful is the best approach to dealing with the inevitability of death.

  4. Chapter 4, Verse 13: Innumerable Buddhas have gone by, seeking out every sentient being; but through my own fault, I have not come into the domain of their cure.

    Explain this verse using the analogy of a seed growing under the correct conditions.

    Lisa — thanks for your beautiful response to Question 1. I like the way you described in detail each of the conditions and activities involved in gardening. It really emphasizes the conscious decision-making involved in cultivating the garden of the mind. As the Buddha taught, we don’t accumulate merit simply by passively NOT engaging in a non-virtuous action. Instead, we accumulate merit when we purposefully decide / turn-away from a situation where we could have acted in a non-virtuous manner (e.g., you find a wallet on the street and could take the contents and discard the rest, but instead you contact the owner and return it).

    Q3: I heard a heart breaking story on NPR about mothers grieving the loss of their sons who were American soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Even though their sons died several years ago, they still visit their graves a few times a week.

    Regarding this question, along with understanding death and impermanence, it’s important to reflect on the nature of the mothers’ grief — their fundamental grasping and attachment to their sons based on ignorance. That might seem like a callous remark, but it’s not intended to be. As a parent, I consider my only son to be the most special boy in the whole world, I’m blind to all his imperfections. My love / grasping and attachment for him blows my impression of him way out of proportion. I cling to my image of him and am stunned when anyone criticizes him.

    A true understanding of ultimate reality would, however, reveal that he is absent of inherent existence, that he is subject to causes and conditions like all phenomena. As such, grasping on to him as though he’s permanent and unchanging does not accord with reality.

    There’s also perhaps an element of “good things shouldn’t happen to bad people” in a mother’s grief and the antidote to this way of thinking is to reflect on the natural law of karma.

  5. I would also add that even though the grief that we feel may be excruciatingly painful to bear, there is nothing about that which inherently exists as well. The old adage that “this too shall pass” is correct and very applicable here. This too can pass because there is nothing about it that inherently exists or is permanent in any way. There have been an number of times when this understanding has helped me to get through a difficult loss. So, if you are grieving the loss of someone close to you and you are reading this, hang in there. 🙂

  6. Chapter 4, Verse 13: Innumerable Buddhas have gone by, seeking out every sentient being; but through my own fault, I have not come into the domain of their cure.

    Explain this verse using the analogy of a seed growing under the correct conditions.

    ” domain of their cure” – not seeing the light that is all around,once a trusted friend said that man’s greatest ‘sin’ was that he forgot all the light that is surrounding him all the time, through my own fault I have stayed in the darkness like a seed not reacing its potential.

    Chapter 4, Verse 15: When shall I encounter the extremely rare appearance of the Tathagata, faith, human existence, and the ability to practice virtue,

    Chapter 4, Verse 16: Health, daily sustenance, and lack of adversity? Life is momentary and deceptive; and the body is as if on loan.

    Taking a closer look at the Eight Leisures and Ten Endowments – when seeing that health and mental facuties are intact it is foolish to not take advanage of the freedoms. Freedom from being born as an animal is the freedom to be without the confines of a non-reflective life that is consumed with meeting one’s own
    basic needs. The endowment of being born in the presence of a Buddha who teaches the Dharma and with kind dharma companions, why hestitate in only seeng the mud over the seed and instead see the sun that is constantly nourishing the truth that is the real me?

    Meditation on death and impermamnence:

    I have heard so many dos and don’t when it comes to talking to people about a death of someone close to them, for instance never say ‘your sorry” – I feel at first inept to write such a letter because I want to say I am sorry, it is such a senseless war we are waging and I am sorry. And on another note, from a
    buddhist perspective I would think that taking seriously my own parctice and field of practice is important. So if I knew one of these mothers I might approach a letter diferently, I mean on a personal level. In a non personal way I would say that there is no question that for all of us life is but a flash of lightening, it is so important to learn how to love people and as a mother you have shown that you can and do, you can still love people who have died, you can keep on loving them and no one can stop you, and no event can stop you. Your sorrow will end, you are never seperated from people you love.

    Also, good always wins out over bad, somehow human beings will end their tendency to war and live in peace. I would suggest some books and simple meditations ideas that could be biult upon if an interest is developed by the mother.

    From a persepctive of my own practice – Shantideva is all about practice and practice now for the benfit of beings, there is no room to give up in Shantideva’s teaching. But than, I look at the news everyday and it is not something I can take in, all this suffering, it makes my mind think this world is too complicated, there is so much suffereing, so my advice that I gave to a mother of a fallen soldier – is to love all people – so I give myself the same advice – Shantideva’s teaching helps eliminate suffering becasue it gives the courage, the determination and Wisdom to do just that – to learn how to love all people

    And it is hard, so I find Shantideva’s study so helpful.

    • Beautiful responses, Lisa! I was particularly struck by your first comment about not being aware of the light that surrounds us…a good reminder of how we are so blinded by our ignorance and delusions that we are unaware of the beauty and love around us.

      The suffering of samsara is a curse and a blessing — because we are overwhelmed by our own dissatisfactions and the sufferings of others it is relatively easy to generate a strong sense of renunciation and thus set forth on the path to liberation for the benefit of all sentient beings.

  7. Chapter 4, Verse 13: Innumerable Buddhas have gone by, seeking out every sentient being; but through my own fault, I have not come into the domain of their cure.

    Explain this verse using the analogy of a seed growing under the correct conditions.

    A seed planted in fertile healthy soil, watered and cared for can over time yield a tremendous tree with deep roots in the earth and large branches which reach up towards the sky. If we use the analogy of dharma being rich cultivated soil which is fertile beyond measure, there the seed will grow perfectly, with everything it could possibly need. Dharma is the prescription for growing and nurturing. If we learn to subdue our emotions, train our minds, be conscientious, and not fall prey to negativities we can come under the domain of the Buddha’s cure. If we continue to treat that small seed properly it will one day become a beautiful strong tree deeply and safely secured by it’s roots in the dharma earth. It is up to me as an individual practitioner to train, discipline and secure my mind and make it ready for the Buddha’s teachings, the path. If I cultivate my practice based on the teachings and put effort into disciplined practice, the proper conditions from my own side, I can then realize the teachings and come under the Buddha’s cure.

    • …and we need to study the Dharma carefully and intensively, so when a storm comes and rips through the garden, our seedlings are strong enough to survive. Based on firm conviction based on analysis and not just blind faith, we are able to withstand whatever adversities ripen unexpectedly due to our past non-virtuous actions. To come under the Buddha’s care takes diligent practice, mindfulness, courage, honesty, patience, and tremendous resolve. With these qualities and others, we can develop the foundation of the path: renunciation, bodhicitta, and right view.

  8. P.S.
    Explain this verse using the analogy of a seed growing under the correct conditions.

    The better analogy referred to more often, would be the seed as
    the Buddha Dharma. The teachings of the Buddha teach us how to care for this seed, nurture and grow it. By carefully and conscientiously following these instructions through practice, we can come under the Buddha’s cure, and produce the correct conditions for maximum growth and benefit.

  9. Chapter 4, Verse 15: When shall I encounter the extremely rare appearance of the Tathagata, faith, human existence, and the ability to practice virtue,

    Chapter 4, Verse 16: Health, daily sustenance, and lack of adversity? Life is momentary and deceptive; and the body is as if on loan.

    Take a closer look at the Eight Leisures and Ten Endowments that characterize our precious human rebirth (see Geshe Chonyi’s text and look online, for example, Lama Zopa’steachings on the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archives http://lywa.org). It’s easy to gloss over these without fully appreciating their meaning. Pick one or two of the Ten Endowments and explain in your own words, what they mean to you.

    Looking at the 8 Leisures and considering all of the realms that we might have been born into, I am most fortunate to have been born in the human realm. Examining the 10 Endowments being born in a fortunate period when a Buddha has appeared and a Buddha has taught the Dharma, how fortunate and precious is this. I have been blessed to have met the spiritual friend, to be able to hear the Dharma and to be guided by the teachings, how rare and special is this. Now, I must take this rare cherished opportunity and practice the Dharma for life is fleeting,fragile and could end at any moment.

  10. When you think of the billions of people in the world and how few have heard of Buddhism and of those how few have had a chance to study with fully qualified teachers, it really is mind boggling!! And if you narrow down the focus to just the United States, just the Gelukpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, and just FPMT, there are only 9 resident teachers listed on the FPMT website for the entire U.S. And what about the countless other non-human inhabitants?

    So we should make every effort to attend the teachings even if it means putting aside our short term goals — careers, family etc. This life is already unfolding based on actions and decisions made during the past, now it’s time to prepare for our future lives by taking full advantage of the endowments of the present. If we’re lazy and procrastinate, we won’t attain our goal. And as you said, whose to say that we won’t wake up paralyzed or drop dead in our offices one day, it happens all the time. We have no idea when or how death will snatch us away from this precious human rebirth.

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